Ask An Alum: Christopher Wang, National Park Service

KeystoneNext recently caught up with Chris Wang, a recent Keystone alum who has migrated to the public sector and now works for the National Parks Service.
July 19, 2021   /   3 Minute Read
Christopher Zang Headshot

Q: Tell us about your new role at the NPS—what are your overarching responsibilities and objectives and what are you currently working on?

I am a management analyst with the Business Management Group. We report to the deputy director of management and administration and are essentially internal consultants for the National Park Service, working on projects that affect the strategic direction of the overall NPS. As a management analyst, I have a few overarching responsibilities. These include: providing management consulting services to parks, regions and headquarters; improving the availability and practical application of data; building capacity and training across the organization; recruiting and placing highly skilled individuals at all levels of the NPS; and serving as trusted partners for leaders at all levels of the organization. I’m currently working on several different projects. I am working to revamp the NPS scorecard, which provides consolidated data about park operations to help decision-makers see potential strengths and weaknesses and make management decisions. I am also working on a project to re-think marina operations at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is facing rapidly declining water levels due to the drought in the West. And I am also managing two projects through our Business Plan Internship, a summer program in which we place graduate students at parks across the country for 11 weeks to work on strategic projects. The summer consultants for those projects are creating a commercial services strategy for Indiana Dunes National Park and a wilderness camping permitting plan for Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Q: To what extent does your new role focus on sustainability and environmentalism? When did you become interested in sustainability and environmentalism?

The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. We are in the forever business – our mandate is to preserve and protect natural and cultural resources for all time. To that end, a key part of any decision making process is to make sure that we have fully considered the environmental impact of any alternatives we choose to pursue. I became seriously interested in sustainability just before applying to business school. I had been working on a project at my old firm to calculate the economic impacts of illegal logging, and took at trip to Shenandoah National Park to clear my mind. I was inspired by the conversations I had with park staff and with the beauty of the natural scenery in the park. It was then that I applied to business school and decided that I wanted my career to have more of a focus on sustainability.

Q: What do you see as NPS’s biggest objectives and opportunities in the next few years?

The NPS has always struggled from a lack of funding, which has led to billions of dollars of deferred maintenance and deteriorating infrastructure across parks. One huge opportunity is the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which was signed into law last year. GAOA will provide up to $9.5 billion over the next five years to improve some of that infrastructure. A big question for the NPS is how that money will be allocated and how it will think about project creation and prioritization. Another big objective is how we think about managing visitor use at our national parks. Many parks have seen dramatic increases in visitation, but without corresponding increases in budget, personnel or facilities spending. Plans need to be put into place so that we can continue to offer unparalleled visitor experiences while ensuring that our parks are not overwhelmed. Another big objective is streamlining some of our systems to enable more data-driven decision making. In the past, different regions would have latitude to acquire and work with different IT, or HR, or financial systems. There is an opportunity now to centralize some of that decision making, so that data can flow more freely and we can get a fuller picture of what is happening across the entire service.

Q: How did your time and experience at Keystone help prepare you for your new role?

My experience at Keystone has prepared me well for my role with the NPS. I took away transferrable skills in presentation and communication. There is such a wide variety of stakeholders who are interested in the work that we do as the National Park Service, and presenting to lawyers, experts, corporate strategy offices, marketing offices, etc. at Keystone was great practice in being able to communicate complex topics to a wide variety of audiences at the NPS. My time at Keystone also helped me develop problem framing skills. Creating ghost decks, laying out structures for analyses, brainstorming ideas – all these skills are directly applicable to the management consulting work I do now at the NPS.

Q: What is your favorite memory from working at Keystone?

I don’t have one single favorite memory, but I do have a theme – I really appreciated that Keystone encouraged folks to have 1:1s, and to do so fairly consistently. I got to know some of my co-workers pretty well during our 1:1 discussions, and they were always something that I looked forward to, especially in the middle of the pandemic.

Q: How many national parks have you been to and which is your favorite and why? Which one that you haven’t visited is at the top of your bucket list?

Little known fact: there are actually 423 national parks managed by the National Park Service. Most people focus on the big national parks, but the NPS also manages historical sites, seashores, lakeshores, battlefields and recreation areas, just to name a few of the different designations that these parks have. All of them are important to the history of this country and all of them have their own stories, so I would recommend not just focusing on the traditional national parks, but exploring all the different national park sites that the NPS is responsible for managing. I’ve been to too many national park sites to count, but that said, my favorite national park at the moment is probably Sleeping Dunes National Lakeshore, in Michigan. It’s a little bit off the beaten path, but it offers sweeping views of Lake Michigan and many giant dunes to hike and explore. The park I want to visit most right now is Lake Mead National Recreation Area – Lake Mead was formed when the Hoover Dam was completed, and it is the first national recreation area in the United States. I’ve been working closely with park staff there and have gotten descriptions, looked at maps and seen plenty of photos of the lake, but there’s nothing quite like getting your feet on the ground to really understand how a park works.

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